Latest on Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Bernier and Justin Schultz, plus the Coyotes could seek a goaltender. 

The Stamkos Watch.

Steven Stamkos' future remains a hot topic in the rumor mill.

Steven Stamkos’ future remains a hot topic in the rumor mill.

TSN: Bob McKenzie believes all signs point to Steven Stamkos parting ways with the Tampa Bay Lightning via free agency next summer. If so, McKenzie believes the Bolts could either shop him at the trade deadline for the best return possible (first-round pick and a top prospect or two), sign Stamkos and then trade him, or simply play out the season with Stamkos in the lineup and then use the cap space they would’ve spent in re-signing him by investing it elsewhere.

While the Toronto media spent a lot of time this week pondering the possibility of the Maple Leafs acquiring the Markham, Ontario native, McKenzie warns there’s no guarantee Stamkos signs with the Leafs. He wonders if the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, New York Rangers or St. Louis Blues could have interest in Stamkos via next summer’s UFA market.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL: James Mirtle wonders if the Maple Leafs can afford to take on an expensive talent like Stamkos when they’re already carrying several high-salaried players (“Dion Phaneuf and his $7-million-a-season deal, Joffrey Lupul ($5.25-million) and Jonathan Bernier ($4.15-million”). plus a combined $2.5 million of dead cap space from retaining part of Phil Kessel’s cap hit and buying out Tim Gleason. He also notes the possibility of a marginal increase in the salary cap could also be a issue, plus there’s the cost of re-signing young Leafs like Nazem Kadri and Morgan Reilly.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canadiens, Red Wings, Rangers and Blues can’t afford Stamkos unless they shed considerable cap space to take on what will be a very expensive new ontract. Considering the Oilers’ biggest needs are in goal and on the blueline, I don’t see them wasting their time pursuing a top scoring forward. The Sabres could certainly make an offer, but if Stamkos wants to win a championship, they might not be on his list of preferred destinations. 

As for the Leafs pursuing Stamkos, I believe that could be a big mistake on their part. Remember, their supposed modus operandi under Brendan Shanahan is following the template of the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings. In other words, drafting and developing their own stars while eschewing the pursuit of expensive free-agent talent. Signing Stamkos blows that plan out of the water, tying up invaluable cap space that could be better invested elsewhere over the long term. 

Yes, I understand, Leafs fans would love to see a good hometown boy like Stamkos in their roster. Yes, he’s an elite star who’ll only be 26 next summer if he hits the open market. But who’s going to be his set-up guy? Is he truly capable of carrying a rebuilding club in one of hockey’s most-demanding markets? If the Leafs are ready to become Cup contenders in five-to-seven years time, will Stamkos still be an effective force? Is he truly worth $11 million per season?

For too long, the Maple Leafs tried to rebuild on the fly and ultimately had nothing to show for it except an increasingly long Stanley Cup drought. Signing Stamkos will just be more of the same. At best, they’ll be a decent playoff team that continues to fall short of Cup contention. If that’s what Leafs fans want, then by all means, go get him. 

Bernier to the Flames?

SPORTSNET: Luke Fox cites Gord Stellick speculating Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello could try to trade struggling goaltender Jonathan Bernier. Fox also noted the Leafs and Calgary Flames had some informal discussions last month regarding a Bernier trade, while Nick Kypreos observes Flames president Brian Burke and GM Brad Treliving attended the Leafs game against the Lightning on Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre. In Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo, the Flames have the league’s worst goaltending. Stellick suggests Bernier could benefit from a change of scenery, like Devan Dubnyk did last season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Burke and Treliving couldn’t have liked what they saw of Bernier in that game. One difference between Bernier and Ramo, however, is the latter is actually winning some games this month for the Flames. Bernier’s also carries a $4.125 million cap hit next season, which could take up valuable cap space needed to re-sign Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Kris Russell. 

Could the Oilers shop Schultz?

EDMONTON JOURNAL: Jim Matheson wonders what Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli sees (or doesn’t see) in defenseman Justin Schultz, who will be a restricted free agent at season’s end. Matheson believes Chiarelli could wait some more on Schultz’s development, re-sign him for another season or trade him.

Coyotes looking at goalie options.

THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC: Sarah McLellan reports Anders Lindback has taken over as the Arizona Coyotes starting goalie while Mike Smith is sidelined eight-to-ten weeks following surgery on a core muscle. However, the club is also exploring other options between the pipes, identifying nine teams that could have a goalie to spare. GM Don Maloney’s preference is for an up-and-coming netminder rather than an experienced goalie. “Arizona has to factor in the cost to execute a deal in addition to actual player salary, and the former might be steeper than the latter”, reports McLellan, who also notes Maloney claims he’s not panicking over this situation. .